Richard Keyt

Four Ship Formation Take Offs

There are many things I remember about flying the F-4.  I think that the single most enjoyable F-4 experience that I loved was four ship formation take offs.  The mission started with the briefing that typically began two hours before the scheduled take off time.  During the briefing the flight leader would describe the procedure for starting engines, radio check-in, time to remove the chocks and begin to taxi, how to line up the four airplanes to taxi to the arming area in formation and the procedures for the actual formation take off.  Mission briefings lasted 45 – 60 minutes after which the aircrews would make a pit stop then slip on G suits and parachute harnesses and board the truck to be delivered to their designated F-4.

After arriving at the airplane we went through the checklists as we inspected the outside of the airplane and then the cockpit inspections and before engine start checklist.  My recollection is that we usually started engines at 20 minutes before our scheduled take off time.  After starting engines and doing the flight control checks the flight leader would make a radio call that started with the flight’s call sign.  For example, if the call sign was “Lark” the flight leader would say “Lark check.”  Then each member of the flight would check in and we would all hear “2, 3, 4″ on our radios.  The flight leader then asked ground control for permission to taxi to the runway.  After getting approval from ground control to taxi each airplane would add power and head for the marshaling area, which was the area on the taxi way designated by the flight commander in the briefing where the four airplanes would join into taxi formation.

I always felt a great sense of pride as my powerful flying machine started to move because at that time the crew chief standing on the left side of the airplane would come to attention and salute.  I returned the salute.  I appreciated the hard work the crew chiefs performed to keep our F-4s in top flying condition.

Yes, we taxied in formation to the arming area at the end of the runway.  The flight leader would have his left or right main gear on the taxi line as we taxied in formation to the end of the runway.  Numbers 2, 3 and 4 would be in order behind the leader in staggered position.  If the leader had his right main gear on the taxi line then 2 and 4 would have their left main gears on the taxi line and 3 would have his right main gear on the taxi line.  Each pilot maintained the briefed distance behind the F-4 in front of his airplane so that the distance between each airplane would be the same.

We were professionals who took pride in the smallest thing.  We taxied to the end of the runway like we were the Thunderbirds performing before a large crowd.  I was very proud to be in formation with three other F-4s as we taxied to the end of the runway.  We always stopped in the arming area at the approach end of the runway so that ground crews could button up all the doors, check the exterior of the airplane and arm any ordinance.  All four airplanes would be parked in the arming area line abreast in order, i.e., 1, 2, 3 and 4.  When ground personnel finished arming our ordinance and doing the before take off checks it was time for the four airplanes to take the runway.

The flight leader in #1 would look at #2 who would look at #3 who would look at #4.  When #4 was ready to take the runway, the aircraft commander, i.e., the guy in the front seat, would nod his head, which caused #3 to nod his head, which caused #2 to nod his head. Three head nods meant that all three wingmen were ready to depart the arming area and move into position on the end of the active runway.

The flight lead’s backseater would then tap his helmet, which caused #2′s backseater then #3′s backseater to tap their helmets.  #4 watched #3 who watched #2 who watched #1.  Next the flight leader’s backseater would put his head back, which caused #2′s backseater and#3′s backseater to put their heads back.  When #1′s backseater moved his helmet forward #2′s backseater did the same and number #3′s backseater followed #2′s head move.  The helmet forward move was the signal to put the canopies down.  The end result of all of this was that all the canopies of all four backseaters were closed at the same time.

Once the backseaters canopies were down, the frontseaters repeated the same procedure.  The flight leader could have simply said on the radio “backseaters put your canopies down on the count of three then said 1, 2, 3, which would have caused all four backseat canopies to close in unison.  However, we were professionals who took pride in little things like doing things at the same time without using the radio.

When all the canopies were closed and the tower gave us clearance to go onto the active runway the flight leader would add some power and taxi to the runway while the three wingmen followed in order.  The flight leader would stop short on the end of the runway with his right main gear on the centerline.  #2 would pull into close formation just to the left of #1.  The element leader in #3 would pull into close formation on the right side of #1 with his left main gear on the centerline.  #4 would pull into close formation with #3 on his right wing.  Once stopped in take off position all four airplanes were in close “finger tip” formation.

Each crew then went over the before takeoff checklist and prepared to make a formation take off.  When the flight leader was ready he would get a head nod from #2 and #3 after he got a head nod from #4.  Four head nods was the signal that all four airplanes were ready to begin the formation take off.

The flight leader would then put his head back, which was the pre-release brakes signal.  When the flight leader moved his helmet forward that was the signal to #2 to move the throttles forward and release brakes.  #1 and #2 would then begin their take off roll side by side.  #2′s job was to stay in fingertip formation while accelerating.  Shortly after becoming airborne the flight leader would nod his head, which was the signal to bring the landing gear up.  Shortly thereafter the flight leader would nod his head again, which was he signal to bring the flaps up.  After crossing the end of the runway the first element would climb and start a left or right turn to allow the second element to join in a four ship fingertip formation.

My favorite position was #4 in the second element.  I will never forget my excitement as I watched #1 and #2 begin their take off rolls.  I had a great view of the exhaust end of the two Phantoms and the flames from four afterburners.  I also enjoyed feeling the jet blast wash over my airplane.  The jet blast caused the airplane to jiggle and shake.

I loved rolling down the runway with my wingtip ten feet from the wingtip of the other airplane.  It is very exhilarating to go from a dead stop to 450 knots in a few seconds while maintaining close formation with the other airplane in my element.  After getting airborne and putting the flaps and gear up I could see the first element higher above me in a climbing turn.  My element leader would cut across the circle and join up with #1 and #2 and we would have four Phantoms in close finger-tip formation as we climbed and began our mission for that day.

I also loved formation landings, but that is a story for another day.

Thank You Martin Baker

The F-4 Phantom is a supersonic jet fighter loved by people like  me who were lucky to have flown it.  It was a great airplane to fly, but it was also a very dangerous machine.  Whenever you throw an airplane at the ground at high dive angles and high descent rates, fly in formation with other fighters or jink back and forth in real or simulated aerial combat, bad things can happen.  It was always a comfort to me knowing that when I flew the Phantom I was sitting on a wonderful life-saving device known as the Martin Baker MK-H7 ejection seat.

The F-4 ejection seat saved many lives.  When activated a rocket motor fired and blasted the seat and its occupant out of the cockpit and away from the speeding F-4.  The Martin Baker seat had a zero zero capability meaning that in theory if a person was sitting in the cockpit while the airplane was parked and stationary on the ground and fired the seat (zero altitude and zero airspeed) the person would be launched 300 feet in the air, the chute would open and the person would safely float back to earth.

Here is some pertinent information about the MK-H7 ejection seat taken from the F-4 owner’s manual aka the TO-1F-4E-1:

The MK-H7 ejection seat system can provide the crew with a safe and efficient escape from the aircraft. The seat is propelled from the aircraft by an ejection gun on the back of the seat which is assisted by a rocket motor on the bottom of the seat. . . . If necessary, ejection can be accomplished at ground level between zero and 550 knots airspeed with wings level and no sink rate providing the crewmember does not exceed a maximum boarding weight of 247 pounds. . . .

During dual automatic ejection initiated from either cockpit, the rear seat fires . . . approximately 0.54 seconds after initiation. Front canopy jettison is initiated after approximately 0.75 seconds and the front sequence actuator will fire the front seat automatically approximately 1.39 seconds after initiation. This ensures adequate clearance between the two ejection seats and the aircraft canopies.

The last paragraph above says that the difference in time from when the back seat fires until the front seat fires is .85 seconds.

One Second – the Difference Between Life and Death

When I was in F-4 RTU (replacement training unit) in 1971 – 1972 at Luke AFB, Arizona, learning how to fly the Phantom there was a tragic F-4 accident on the Gila Bend bombing range.  Two students were in the F-4 doing practice dive bombing (probably 30% dive angle, but it could have been 45%, both of which were common dive angles).  The pilot rolled in to drop his practice bomb, but he was too steep.  Both the flight leader and the range control officer warned the pilot on the radio that he was too steep.

The time between roll in and pull up is between 5 – 10 seconds depending on the dive angle, the roll in altitude and the release altitude of the particular bomb.  There is little margin for error when the airplane is screaming toward the earth at 450 knots in a 30% dive bomb.  At some point in the dive the altitude needed to recover the airplane without hitting the ground becomes more than the airplanes altitude over the ground.  When that happens the crew will either die or eject with the possibility of death or serious injury.

Either or both the flight leader or the range office recognized the F-4 could not avoid hitting the ground and yelled over the radio for the crew to eject.  It was obvious to those watching the diving airplane that it was going to crash.  I don’t recall who initiated the ejection, but both ejection seats fired.  The backseater lived and the frontseater died when he hit the ground before his parachute opened.  Had the ejection seat been started ONE SECOND EARLIER, the frontseater would have lived.

Flying Fighters Was/Is Dangerous

I knew many guys who flew the Phantom who ejected and lived.  I knew some who died in the F-4.  When I was in flying the F-4 it was not possible to get life insurance other than one $35,000 military life insurance policy.  Commercial life insurance companies did not sell life insurance to fighter pilots because they had too high of a risk of dying.

I saw three fighters crash.  The first crash I witnessed occurred the day I arrived in Korea at Osan Air Base in May or June of 1972 (can’t remember when I actually arrived there).  I was waiting on the flight line for an passenger plane to take me to Kunsan AB, Korea, where my squadron was stationed.  I noticed several fire engines racing out to the runway.  This was a frequent event because whenever an airplane declared an emergency the fire engines were routinely deployed to the runway in case they were needed.

Since I was bored waiting I decided to watch and see what the emergency was all about.  I could see an F-4 making a landing approach with a lot of black smoke trailing behind it.  As I watched the airplane suddenly plunged to the ground and blew up.  The crew ejected safely.  I found out later that the airplane had an engine fire.  The pilot shut down what he thought was the engine that was on fire, but he actually shut down the good engine.  The accident report said that the maintenance people had mistakenly reversed the fire warning lights.  The pilot’s instruments told him exactly the opposite as far as which engine was on fire.

The second airplane crash I witnessed was an F-4 from my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, during the winter of 1973.  I describe that accident in my story called “The Gibb LADD.”  The third crash I saw was a T-38 trainer that had some problem with its landing gear that resulted in the aircrew ejecting and abandoning the airplane rather than trying to land it.  I never did learn what happened in that crash.

The Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat

I loved my ejection seat, but it scared the daylights out of me.  People died because of ejection seat accidents.  If the seat fired when it was  not supposed to somebody could die.  There were maintenance men who died while working in the cockpit of the F-4 because they did something that inadvertently caused the seat to fire.

The first thing the F-4 pilot was supposed to do when he got to the F-4 before a flight was a Before Exterior Inspection (Front Cockpit) check. The first three items in the F-4 checklist relate to the ejection seat and are:

1.  Face curtain and seat mounted initiator safety pins – INSTALLED

2.  Canopy interlock cable & interdictor link safety pin assembly – INSTALLED CORRECTLY & ATTACHED TO CANOPY

3.  Lower ejection handle guard – UP

The following is the beginning parts of the Front Cockpit Interior Check checklist that involved the ejection seat:

2.  Leg restraint lines – BUCKLED & SECURED

3.  Harness and personal equipment leads – FASTEN

4.  Ejection seat height – ADJUST

5.  Face curtain & seat mounted initiator safety pins – REMOVED

The ejection seat had 7 safety pins all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire.  When the F-4 was not actually occupied by a crew before, during and after a flight, the ground crew always inserted all seven safety pins into their insertion points in the seat.  All seven pins were tied together with a nylon line.  The purpose of these pins was to prevent the accidental firing of the seat.

When a crew member arrived at the airplane for a flight, the crew chief normally would have already removed six of the seven safety pins and put the six pins and the nylon line that attached the pins into a pouch and laid pouch on the top of the seat.  Before I sat in the ejection seat I always made sure that all six of the pins that were supposed to be removed were in fact removed.  I did not remove the last safety pin (the face curtain  pin) until I was completely strapped into the seat.  To get strapped in I had to do the following:

1.  Connected the two D rings on my parachute harness to the two snap connectors on the seat survival kit to connect the the kit to me. The survival kit had a radio, water, food and other survival items in case of ejection in the boonies.

2.  Connected my lap belt to strap me into the seat.

3.  Connected both of my leg restraints.  Each leg had two garters – one that went around the calf just above the boot and the other that went around the thigh just above the knee. These four garters were connected to two nylon lines that went into the bottom of the ejection seat.  During an ejection the seat pulled the nylon lines tight which caused both legs to be locked close to the seat to prevent the legs from flailing in the wind stream at high speeds, which could severely injure legs.

4.  Connected both parachute risers (lines connected to the parachute) to my parachute harness.  The F-4′s parachute was built into the top of the ejection seat, which required that pilots attach their parachute harness to the parachute risers.  It was very nice not to have to lug a heavy parachute around like the F-105 drivers had to do.

After completing the four steps listed above I pulled the seventh pin out of the face curtain and inserted it in the pouch with the other six pins and counted to make sure all seven pins were in the pouch.  I then stowed the pouch until I landed and replaced the seventh pen into the top of the seat.

The F-4 ejection seat system was designed to prevent the seat from firing if the canopy was attached to the air-frame.  There was a steel cable that had one end permanently attached to the back of the canopy and the other end was attached to a safety pin that went into the banana links on the top of the seat.  The seat would not fire unless that safety pin was removed.  Normally when an ejection was initiated the first thing that happened was the canopy thrusters on the bulkhead just below the canopy pushed up and caused the canopy to begin to open.  As soon at the front of the canopy opened enough to allow the air-stream to go underneath the front of the canopy the massive amount of air caused the canopy to rapidly open and depart the air-frame taking the steel cable and the safety pin with it.

Fortunately I never had to eject from a Phantom.  Nor did I ever come close to ejecting.  I did have one very bad emergency where on landing I was ready to eject if the slightest thing went wrong, but the landing was smooth even though it was 200+ knots without normal brakes and no nose gear steering.  That’s a story for another day.

Watch Phil Describe His Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat

A Video about the Martin Baker Company & Its Ejection Seats

Rick Keyt’s Photos

These are Richard Keyt’s pictures  taken while he was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron while TYD from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, to Korat Air Base, Thailand in 1972.

Click on the first photo to enlarge it.  You many then click on the >> or << symbols to move forward or backwards in picture viewer.

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron MiG Kills

On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post.  After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure “walk-talk” teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron’s silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.

Thus began the April Fool’s day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the “Southeast Asia War Games” and Operation Linebacker I.  Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines.  On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand.  The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.

Some of the 35th TFS Guys Pose for a Group Photo in front of the Squadron Building Just Prior to Departing Kunsan AB, Korea, for Southeast Asia.

The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it.  During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.  Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI.  The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun.  When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile (“SAM”) radars.

The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole.  The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet.  It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam.  The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.

The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s.  The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force.  If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.

In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial combat is the fighter pilot’s ultimate experience.  Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots “have the right stuff” in his best selling book of the same name.  Tom also wrote a short story called “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” It is about a Navy F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot down by a surface to air missile (a “SAM”). The crew was rescued from the Gulf of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer’s mess / ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it.  I believe the short story is in Wolfe’s book called “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.”  It was first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.

In 1980 I was working on a masters degree in tax law at New York University School of Law.  Tom Wolfe gave a talk to the students about his book “The Right Stuff.”  I attended and found it very interesting.  Tom spoke about a chapter he wrote for the book, but his editor didn’t let him put in the final version because it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the book.  Wolfe spent a lot of time researching “The Right Stuff” by hanging out with fighter pilots on Air Force and Navy bases.  The deleted chapter was all about fighter pilots and what it was like to fly fighters in the US military. Tom said that his research showed that most fighter pilots were white Anglo Saxon protestants who were first born sons.

After Tom finished the speech he came into the audience and talked to people and signed autographs. I approached him from behind and waited for a chance to get his attention. I finally called out “Mr. Wolfe,” but he did not turn around. I then said “I am a white Anglo Saxon protestant first born son who flew F-4s in Vietnam.” That got his attention. Tom turned around and we had a lively discussion for an extended period of time about flying fighters. Tom told me that I should read “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”

A few weeks later, I was wasting time in the library.  I grabbed a volume of bound magazines off the shelf and thumbed through it.  By chance I came across “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”  Excellent story.  What are the odds of randomly finding the story?  I searched for the story on the net tonight, but only found references to it.

But, I digress.  This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat.  The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG.  Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were.  Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG.  The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.

Lt. Colonel Ferguson’s F-4D that he flew back to Kunsan AB, Korea, in October 1972 when the 35 TFS RTBd.
Ask Joe Lee Burns or Gary Rettebush Why 8 Air to  Air MiG Kills  are Listed
Official USAF Records Credit the 35 TFS with 6 MiG  Kills

My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI.  The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972.  When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.

  • Capt. James Beatty Jr. & Lt. James Sumner
    Call sign: Balter 03
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
  • Major Gary Retterbush & Lt. Daniel Autrey
    Call sign: Finch 03
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
  • Major Gary Retterbush & Capt. Robert Jasperson
    Call sign: Lark 01
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon

Read Gary Retterbush’s article on his MiG kills called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”

*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.

Dan Autrey was my roommate.  Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill.  Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them.  Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call “Lark 3 break left.”  Dan looked to his F-4′s seven o’clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said “oh shit, left, left, left.”  I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron Members in Southeast Asia 1972

The purpose of this page is to assist in finding old friends and squadron mates.  The following people are former members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron or the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, or the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Osan Air Base, Korea, who were sent TDY to Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, and/or Korat Royal Air Base, Thailand in 1972, and whose address and contact information are known to Rick Keyt:

  • Ed Askins, 35th TFS
  • Dan Autrey, 35th TFS
  • Chuck Banks, 35th TFS
  • Lyle Beckers, 35th TFS
  • Joe Boyles,  35th TFS
  • Joe Lee Burns, 35th TFS
  • Tim “CC” Claiborne, 35th TFS
  • Gary Corbett, 35th TFS
  • Charlie Cox, 35th TFS
  • Dave Eastis, 35th TFS
  • Hap Ertlschweiger, 35th TFS
  • Chuck Jaglinski, 35th TFS
  • Bob Jasperson, 35th TFS
  • Rick Keyt, 35th TFS
  • Jim “Killer” Killoran, 35th TFS
  • George Lippemeier, 80th TFS
  • Dave Lowder, 35th TFS
  • Doug Malloy, 35th TFS
  • Joe Moran, 36th TFS
  • Mike Nelson, 35th TFS
  • John Ormond, 35th TFS
  • Jack Overstreet, 35th TFS
  • Ron Price, 35th TFS
  • Jeff O. ‘Pitts’ Pritchard, 35th TFS
  • Gary Retterbush, 35th TFS
  • Carl Scheidegg, 35th TFS
  • Raymond Seymour, 35th TFS
  • Biff Strom, 35th TFS
  • Charlie Sullivan, 35th TFS
  • Jim Sumner, 35th TFS
  • Ron Thomas, 35th TFS
  • Cliff Young, 35th TFS
  • Dennis VanLiere, 36th TFS
  • Mickey Wilbur, 35th TFS

If you are a former member of the 35th TFS, 36th TFS or the 80th TFS and want to add your name to the list, or if you want to contact somebody on the list, send an email message to Rick Keyt at rickkeyt@keytlaw.com with your name and contact information.  I’ll add you to the list if you are a former member.  If you are trying to reach somebody on the list, I will forward your email to the person you seek and that person can decide whether to respond to your inquiry.

80th Tactical Fighter Squadron

The 80th TFS Juvats have the Headhunters Association for former and current members of the squadron.  The squadron has regular reunions and is looking for lost Vietnam era Juvats to come to reunions.  See the Headhunter’s website.

Kunsan SEA 1972 TDYers MIA

If you know how to reach any of our guys that are MIA (missing in America) or if you know of names that should be added to the list below, drop me a line at rickkeyt@keytlaw.com.

  • Jack Caputo
  • Larry Culler
  • Jay Gaspar
  • Lloyd Golden
  • Ray “Howie” Howington
  • John Huwe
  • Bill Kyle
  • Phil Lehman
  • Bill Mikkelson
  • Jeff Musfeldt
  • Jim Pinckley
  • Sol Ratner
  • Carl Scheidegg
  • Dan Silvas
  • Russ Stone
  • Jack Storck
  • Larry Taylor
  • Ray Vogel
  • Don Vogt
  • Phil Winkler

Deceased Comrades in Arms

Dressed for the Aerial Office

Click on this link to see me, 1Lt. Richard Keyt, dressed in my flight suit, G suit, parachute harness and survival vest ready to fly a combat mission in the F-4 in the summer of 1972 out of Korat Air Base, Thailand.

F-4 Close Air Support Combat Missions 1972

I was fortunate to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom II supersonic (mach 2+) fighter bomber for five years from 1971 – 1976.  Although I joined to United States Air Force to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army and going to Vietnam, fate ultimately sent me to Vietnam.

During the summer and fall of 1972, I was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos.  The 35th TFS was based at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, but was on temporary duty (TDY) from Kunsan Air Base, Korea.  We brought our F-4D models from Korea, but we also flew the F-4E models based at Korat.  The primary difference between the D and E models was that the D model did not have a 20mm canon and the E model had a 20mm canon built into the nose.

During the summer and fall of 1972, the 35th TFS had two primary missions:

  1. Strike escort missions as part of operation Linebacker I into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.  Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the Phantoms carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in the Route Pack VI area of North Vietnam.  The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s.  The job of the strike escort was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force.  If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.

  2. Close air support missions primarily in the northern part (Military Region 1) of South Vietnam.  These missions consisted of dropping bombs (usually Mark 82 500 pound general purpose bombs – slick, with fuse extenders and snake eye, but sometimes cluster bomb units “CBUs”) under the direction and control of a forward air controller.  These missions were in defense of the good guys who were being attacked by Viet Cong or North Vietnamese army men.

When I arrived at Korat in the summer of 1972, the 35th TFS was divided into two groups.  One group, the older and more experienced guys, flew daily Operation Linebacker I missions into Route Pack VI and the other group flew close air support missions.  Because I was a young, inexperienced and very green 1st Lt., I was assigned to the close air support missions.  I did not mind too much because the Route Pack VI missions were much more dangerous.

Although I did get to fly combat missions into Route Pack VI, most of the combat missions I flew were close air support missions at night in the northern part of South Vietnam or Laos.  I usually flew two missions a night.  After dropping all my bombs on the first target, my flight of two F-4s landed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, to rearm and refuel.  I then rendezvoused with another Forward Air Controller and dropped another load of bombs on the bad guys and returned to Korat.

My typical bomb load was twelve Mark 82 500 pound general purpose bombs.  It was common for six of the bombs to have fuse extenders.  Every bomb had at least one fuse, which was the device that caused the bomb to detonate.  A fuse extender was a three foot metal tube that screwed into the nose of the bomb with the fuse on the tip of the tube.  The purpose of a fuse extender was to cause the bomb to detonate three feet above the ground for maximum blast effect against troops in the open.  Each bomb had a nose and a tail fuse that was selected by the pilot before dropping the bomb.  If a building or a structure was the target, the tail fuse was preferred because it would cause the bomb to detonate after the bomb first penetrated the structure so that the full force of the blast would occur inside the structure.

A Normal Day at the Aerial Office

My normal work day consisted of waking in the late afternoon then showering, shaving and getting dressed in my nomex green fire retardant flight suit.  I then rode the shuttle bus or hitched a ride to the Korat Air Base Officer’s Club for breakfast just before dark.  After eating, I went to Fort Apache (scroll to the bottom of the page for two pictures of Fort Apache taken by Col. Grady Morris), the intelligence building on the flight line, to plan and brief my mission for the night.

Mission briefings usually started two hours before take off.  First, an intelligence officer briefed all the crews on recent events in the ground and air war and specific information about my target area.  We also got a weather briefing.  Next, the flight leader of each flight of two or four F-4s conducted individual briefings for his flight.  Most of the night missions involved flights of two F-4s.

During the briefing, we talked about the types of weapons delivery to be used to drop our ordnance, emergency air fields, search and rescue procedures, missing wingman procedures, rendezvousing with the forward air controller, and return to base (“RTB”) procedures.  I usually had 10 – 30 minutes after the briefing to prepare to go to the airplane.

This 10 – 30 minutes of inactive time was when I was most afraid because the idleness allowed me to think about what I was preparing to do — use a multi-million dollar supersonic flying machine to drop bombs on fellow human beings who were trying to kill me at the same time I was trying to kill them.  It was during this time I always went to the bathroom at the insistence of my nervous bowels.

My Flying Gear

About fifteen minutes before station time (the time designated to depart Fort Apache for the flight line and my airplane) I dressed for aerial combat.  I put my wallet, money and all personal affects in my locker.  The only identification I carried when I flew combat missions was my Geneva convention card and my US Department of Defense military ID card.

The G Suit

While flying the F-4, I wore a G suit or technically I suppose it was an “anti-G suit” because its purpose was to allow me to withstand Gs when turning hard in the F-4.  The normal force of gravity we all experience is called “one G” or one gravity force.  When a fighter turns hard, it can cause the airplane and its occupants to experience multiple gravity forces.  During normal combat maneuvers, the F-4 frequently “pulled” 4 or 5 positive Gs.  Five Gs means that the pilot’s body weights five times its weight.  Moving while pulling 4 or 5 Gs is difficult, especially turning the head around to check the five or seven o’clock positions.  While pulling Gs, I sometimes had to use my arm to push my head backwards so I could look behind the airplane.

The purpose of the G suit is to help fighter pilots pull more Gs before they gray out (lose peripheral vision) or black out (become unconscious).  The G suit looks like an ugly weird set of pants and is worn over the flight suit.  It zips on around each leg and the abdomen.  The G suit has air bladders over the stomach, around the thighs and the calves of each leg.  It also has a hose that plugs into an outlet in the cockpit.  When the G forces increase, the airplane pumps air into the bladders in the G suit.  More Gs means more air pumped into the suit.  When the Gs decrease the air pressure in the G suit decreases until there is no air pressure in the G suit when the G force equals one.  The G suit increases a pilot’s ability to withstand G forces because it constricts the lower half of the body and makes it more difficult for blood to flow from the upper body to the lower body.  The result is that it takes more G forces to push blood from the brain thus giving the pilot the ability to withstand greater G forces before graying or blacking out.

My G suit was also a place to store items that otherwise could not be carried in the cramped cockpit of the F-4.  My G suit had a pocket on the inner thigh in which I carried a USAF issued switchblade knife tied to a lanyard that was secured to the G suit.  One end of the knife was always open because it was a special hook shaped blade the sole purpose of which was to cut four parachute lines to make the parachute more maneuverable.  I also had a large jungle knife in a sheath with a sharpening stone attached to my G suit.  I made sure I had several strips of gray USAF tape on the thigh area of my G suit.  I used the tape to cover instrument lights that were too bright when I flew at night.

The Survival Vest

Next I donned my survival vest made of light-weight nylon material.  It contained the following survival gear: two two-way radios, 50 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition, compass, tourniquet, first aid kit, two smoke flares (to make a lot of colored smoke) and several pen gun flares (to be fired into the sky). When I flew, I also wore a parachute harness into which the parachute straps contained in the ejection seat connected.  The parachute harness had two under arm life preserver units (lpus) to be inflated if I ejected over water and three hundred feet of nylon line in a pack on the back of the harness.  Because much of Southeast Asia was covered by thick jungles with trees over 200 feet high, the nylon line in the parachute harness would allow me to slowly lower myself to the ground if I ejected and my parachute got stick in the trees.

I took special care to check the two radios I carried in my survival vest.  I made sure each radio worked properly and that the batteries were fully charged.  I also put two extra radio batteries in my anti-G suit pocket along with two plastic bottles of ice.  If I were shot down, the only way I would be rescued would have been to make contact with US forces on one of the three radios I carried (two in my survival vest and one in the survival kit in my ejection seat).

The last thing I did after putting on my survival vest, anti-G suit and parachute harness was to check out my Smith & Wesson .38 caliber Combat Masterpiece revolver from the survival gear people.  I then grabbed six .38 caliber bullets from the big tin of bullets and loaded my little pea shooter and inserted it into the holster strapped to my leg.  Although I had an additional 50 rounds of bullets in two bandoliers on my survival vest, the weapon was no match for an enemy soldier with an AK-47, but it might be useful for self defense against tigers and cobra snakes than inhabited the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Arriving at the Airplane

An hour before take off a USAF step van took us to the airplanes.  The first thing I did was put my gear in the cockpit and do the Preflight Checks that consisted of:

  1. Before Exterior Inspection Check
  2. Exterior Inspection Check
  3. Before Entering Cockpit Check
  4. Cockpit Interior Check
  5. Before Electrical Power Check
  6. After Electrical Power Check
Checking the Ordnance

During the Exterior Inspection Check, I inspected each ordnance item.  I made sure the ordnance was securely fastened to the airplane and that each fuse had a safety wire in it.  The fuses had little propellers on their tips.  The bombs were not armed (ready to explode) unless they had a fuse and the fuse was active.  Before a fuse could become active, the propeller on the fuse had to spin in the wind fast enough to cause the fuse to become active.  The purpose for the fuse, the propellers and the arming of the fuse was to prevent a bomb from colliding with another bomb when released and detonating under the airplane or from simply detonating spontaneously when released.

Before bomb release, the propellers on the fuses could not spin in the wind because they had a safety wire inserted in the propeller that prevented the propeller from spinning.  When the bomb was released, the safety wire remained attached to the airplane and pulled free from the propeller.  With the safety wire removed, the little propeller spun in the wind and armed the fuse.  Once armed, the bomb would detonate when the fuse was “jostled.”

My airplane usually carried three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one ALQ-119 jamming pod in the four missile bays on the bottom of the fuselage.  There were no MiGs in the South Vietnam airspace so the AIM-7s were not needed.  Although there were a few SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (“SAMs”) in the northern part of South Vietnam during the NVA’s Easter 1972 offensive, I do not recall one being fired at me outside of North Vietnam.

College & the Military Draft

In the fall of 1969, I was a senior at Penn State University enjoying my last year of college and fraternity parties.  The U.S. Army was drafting young men to fill its need for soldiers in Vietnam.  Because I was a full time student in college, I had a student deferment that had kept me out of the draft for three years.  The deferment would terminate on my graduation in June of 1970, and I would then be eligible to be drafted.  My draft number was 183, a number selected at random by the U.S. Selective Service System by putting 366 birthdays in a jar and picking them out one by one.  My birthday was the 183rd pick, which gave me a draft lottery number of 183.

Each local draft board was given a quota of the number of draftees that were to be selected by the draft board to be inducted into the Army.  People who had a draft deferment for reasons such as college or medical problems were not eligible to be drafted.  From the pool of eligible potential draftees, the draft boards were obligated to draft starting with people whose draft lottery numbers were started at 1 and then proceed in order to lottery number 365 if necessary.  Because my number was in somewhat in the middle of lottery numbers, I was in a gray area.  I could not predict if I would be drafted or if my number was high enough to avoid the draft.

I decided to hedge my bet by applying for admission to USAF flight school.  If I got drafted and if I got into flight school, I would have the option to join the USAF and fly instead of being drafted into the Army and possibly being sent to Vietnam.  If I were drafted, I would have to serve two years in the Army.  I could also avoid the draft by volunteering for the Army and get a choice of what my job would be.  By volunteering, I could get a “safe” job such as computer programmer or cook, but volunteers had a three year active duty service commitment.  The Air Force commitment was three months of Officer Training School, one year of  flight school followed by five years of additional active duty.

The application process for becoming an Air Force officer and airplane driver was intense and took many months.  I first completed a lengthy application.  I passed the first round of cuts and had to take several tests such as an aptitude test, general knowledge and eye-hand coordination.  After passing the second round of tests, I was given a very comprehensive flight physical, including an eye exam.  A common mis-conception is that you cannot become a military pilot if you do not have 20/20 vision.  Only a select few (such as Air Force Academy cadets) know that it is possible to get a waiver of the 20/20 requirement from the Surgeon General of the Air Force.  I also had to complete a detailed Department of Defense questionnaire about my entire life, which would be used by the FBI to investigate me to determine if I was eligible to hold a Top Secret security clearance.  After passing the FBI background check, the last stage of the process was to be selected by a selection board.

I began the USAF application process in the fall of 1969, but did not get notice of my acceptance until May of 1970, about the same time I got a notice from my draft board to report for a draft physical.  When an Army recruiter told me that I had a good chance of being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam, I elected to accept my USAF slot and go to Officer Training School and flight school.  I goofed off the summer of 1970 in Westport, Connecticut, were my parents lived.  In early September of 1970, I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and became an E-4 (for pay purposes) and reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for three months of OTS.

USAF Officer Training School 1970

Officer Training School in 1970 was a cross between college and military boot camp.  We were assigned to squadrons of new Officer Trainees (“OTs”).  Each squadron had an Air Force officer who acted as a low key drill instructor.  I got up each day except Sunday at about 5:30 a.m., made my bed in the USAF way, showered, shaved, got dressed and marched to the mess hall for breakfast.  We had to march everywhere outside.  If we went any where on the OTS campus, one OT had to be the flight leader who gave the marching commands to the other OTs (or sometimes a single OT) who marched in single file or in a column of two.

Breakfast, like all meals, was quick and we could not talk.  We only had between 5 – 10 minutes to eat our food so everybody woofed it down.  Then it was back to the barracks to study for class.  A typical day consisted of mostly class room instruction on military subjects like how to be an officer, the structure of the USAF, and military history.  An hour or two each day was devoted to exercising and physical education.  We ran a lot, and I’m not big on running long distances.  We also played team sports like football, softball and a strange game called “Flickerball,” which was a combination of basketball and football.

I don’t remember OTS as being very difficult, certainly it was nothing like Marine boot camp.  I do remember making a lot of good friends and having a lot of good times.  We always seemed to find something to laugh about.  I distinctly remember getting the feeling that I was getting converted to the Air Force way of thinking.  I also remember seeing movies in the big auditorium, which we affectionately called the “master bedroom” because when the lights went out in it, a lot of us nodded off to sleep.

Every Saturday morning at OTS the cadet wing of OTs had a parade and marching competition.  The first six weeks I was at OTS, I marched in the parade.  The marching skill of each squadron was graded.  The quarters of each squadron was also graded.  The squadron that scored the highest combined score won the weekly prize.  The last six weeks I was at OTS, I was one of the OTs who graded the squadrons’ marching at the parade.  The only time I ever marched or participated in a parade was when I was at OTS.  I never marched or participated in parades on active duty.

I’ll never forget watching an Air Force made short movie called “There is a Way.”  The movie was about men my age and a little older flying combat missions over North Vietnam in F-105 Thunderchief (the “Thud”) fighter bombers out of Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand in 1966.  Lt. Karl Richter was featured in the movie because he epitomized the heroic young American warrior of the Vietnam air war.  Lt. Richter had survived 100 missions over Route Pack Six, the most dangerous area of all aerial combat of the Vietnam war, and he volunteered to fly another 100 missions.

Lt. Karl Richter was shot down and killed in action on July 28, 1967, after completing his second 100 missions over North Vietnam.  There is a statue of Karl Richter at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on which is inscribed, the following words from the prophet Isaiah:  “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.”  Lt. Richter gave his life in the service of his country.  Karl Richter’s spirit and sacrifice will live on in the annals of the United States Air Force and American history.  The December 1992 issue of Air Force Magazine contains an article about Karl Richter written in its Valor section.

The movie includes footage of a mongrel dog named “Roscoe,” which had a special purpose and place at Korat.  Roscoe attended all the early morning briefings given to the aircrews that were to fly into the dangerous Route Pack Six area in North Vietnam.  The briefings were held in an auditorium at Fort Apache, the intelligence building on the flight line at Korat.

Roscoe had a reserved seat at the briefings in the front row.  Because the Route Pak Six briefings were usually very early in the morning, Roscoe liked to sleep.  Sometimes, however, Roscoe woke up.  Korat fighter pilots believed that if Roscoe slept through the briefing then nobody would get shot down.  If Roscoe woke up during the briefing, the fighter pilots believed that it was a bad sign that somebody was going to be killed or captured that day.  For more information about Roscoe, see the histories written by Col. William C. Koch, Jr. USAF (Ret) and several contributors to the Korat AB website.

Roscoe was adopted by all the fighter pilots at Korat.  The youngest flying officer was given the additional duty of “Roscoe Control Officer.”  His duty was to take care of Roscoe’s needs and transport him around the base and make sure Roscoe was present for the big Route Pak Six mission briefings at Fort Apache.

In the summer of 1972 when I arrived at Korat, Roscoe was still alive and living the life of top dog on base.  I saw Roscoe most every day while I was at Korat.  He was usually at either the Officers Club or Fort Apache, which was the intelligence building where aircrews planned and briefed combat missions..  One day I was waiting outside the Officers Club for the shuttle bus to take me to the flight line and a pickup truck pulled up and stopped in front of me. A bird Colonel got out of the truck, opened the door and Roscoe jumped out and sauntered into the club.

Sunday night at the Officers Club was “cook your own steak night.”  The Club always made sure that Roscoe got a steak Sunday night.  I frequently ran into Roscoe while on the shuttle bus.  When Roscoe wanted to go someplace, he would wait at the bus stop until the shuttle bus arrived.  The drivers all knew Roscoe and stopped to pick him up and let him out.

F-4 Replacement Training Unit (RTU)

After graduating from USAF Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I was commissioned as a brown bar Second Lieutenant in December of 1970.  I spent a year earning my wings.  I finished high enough in my class to pick the F-4 Phantom as the airplane I would fly for the next five years.  After a two week romp in the beautiful mountains of Washington state where I attended survival school followed by a couple of weeks at water survival school outside of Miami, Florida, I reported in November of 1971 to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for six months of F-4 RTU.

2nd Lt. Richard Keyt is in the back row, 6th guy from the left.
Capt. Buddy Mizel, 1st guy on left in the back row.
Capt.  Kenny Boone (Instructor Pilot) kneeling 3rd from the left.

RTU stood for “replacement training unit.”  It was called RTU because we were being trained to replace other F-4 guys in Vietnam after they finished their one year tour of duty.  Since I was young  pup, I had dreamed of flying a jet fighter.  When I drove onto Luke AFB for the first time and saw the sleek Phantoms lining the ramp, it was a dream come true.  It gave me a chill to see row after row of camouflaged F-4s.

It was a very exciting time.  I was 23 years old, single and ready for adventure.  I got an apartment at the Oakwood Garden Apartments at 40th Street and Camelback Street in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although it was a 45 minute drive one way to the base, my apartment complex was well worth the long commute.  I picked Oakwood for several reasons:  a lot of Luke F-4 pilots lived there and recommended it, the apartments were far from the base so I could live like a civilian, it was close to the night life, and the amenities were great.

Oakwood at the time was singles only.  It was and still is a large apartment complex.  It had a beautiful large pool, tennis court and tennis pro, sand volleyball courts, six pool tables in a big recreation center, live bands on Friday nights, an activities director and a lot of young adults.  I roomed with two other F-4 students in a two bedroom apartment.  We had black lights and liked to play music with the black light on at night and talk and talk and talk.

I was assigned to the 311th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, which consisted of approximately 10 – 15 F-4 instructor pilots and about 40 students.  The course lasted six months and included three primary phases.  We generally spent half the day in an academic class and the other half of the day flying.  We also squeezed in about twenty 1.5 hour missions in the F-4 simulator.

The classes were just like college, except we weren’t studying political science, English or chemistry.  We had text books for each subject and nightly reading assignments.  The F-4 instructors taught classes in aircraft general, formation flying, basic fighter maneuvers, aerial combat maneuvering (dog fighting), bombing theory, weapons delivery, nuclear weapons, combat mission planning, electronic warfare and countermeasures, and weapons computer delivery system.  From time to time in each course we had tests, including final exams.  Anybody who flunked an exam risked losing their wings.

We spent a lot of time learning and studying about the F-4 and its systems.  We were issued a large book about an inch thick called a dash one, which is the equivalent of the owners manual for the airplane.  It was filled with page after page of information about all the unclassified systems of the Phantom.  We studied the dash one religiously and were constantly being quizzed on F-4 trivia.  The Phantom is a complex machine with a lot of systems and it demands your full attention.

Before we could fly, we had to learn about the Martin Baker ejection seat and the finer points of surviving emergency air and ground egress.  The Martin Baker ejection seat is a rocket propelled ejection seat that had an excellent record of saving lives.  It is known as a “zero, zero” seat, which means that it is supposed to safely eject a man when the airplane has zero altitude and zero airspeed.  In theory, if a man was strapped into the ejection seat in the F-4 sitting still on the ground and the ejection seat fired, the man and seat would be blown 300 feet in the air, the parachute would open and the man would parachute back to earth safely.  The nice thing about flying with an ejection seat is that you can always leave the airplane if you don’t like what is happening.  It gives you a false sense of security.

The ejection seat, however, was a very dangerous device that required the utmost care.  There were a number of accidents, usually involving maintenance personnel who were working inside the cockpit and accidentally fired the seat.  Most seat accidents were fatal.  I was very careful to check my ejection seat from top to bottom before getting in the cockpit.  The seat had seven safety pins stuck in various parts, all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire.  The seven pins were all attached to a long nylon cord.  Normally when the airplane was not in use, all seven safety pins were in the seat.  Just before a scheduled flight, the crew chief would remove six of the safety pins and put them in the safety pin bag and lay it on the top of the seat.

My first flight in the F-4 was a blast, literally and figuratively.  Standard USAF procedure before flying the F-4 was for all the crewmembers in a flight to have a mission briefing two hours before scheduled takeoff.  F-4s usually flew in flights of two or four.  The briefings lasted an hour during which the flight leader would follow a briefing checklist and discuss the mission from A to Z.  He briefed us on the weather, time to start engines, radio procedures, flight check in time, taxi procedures, arming area procedures, type of take off such as single ship or formation, departure procedure, route to the restricted flying area, how to perform the mission such as dive bombing, strafing,  intercepts, dog fighting, return to base, ground emergency procedures and emergency air fields.

American Heroes

Most Americans do not realize that the men and women who serve in the U.S. military frequently risk their lives as a day to day part of their jobs.  Many military jobs are no more dangerous than the jobs of most other Americans.  Some military jobs, however, are inherently dangerous and sometimes can be deadly.

For example, when I was flying the F-4 Phantom supersonic fighter (1971 – 1976) I could not purchase commercial life insurance because my job was too risky.  I actually saw three fighters (two F-4s and one T-38) crash in peace time during the five years I flew fighters in the United States Air Force.  I knew many people who ejected from crippled fighters.  When you throw your body at the ground in a 45 degree dive bomb at 450 knots or engage in mock aerial combat with other airplanes at supersonic speeds, things can happen.

Most of us have heard the term “freedom is not free.”  When we hear that phrase, we usually think of U.S. military personnel dying for our country in war, but it also applies in peace time and to accidents that occur in war time.

American military personnel die all too frequently so that the American people can enjoy the fruits of freedom.  We should always remember our fallen heroes and the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby who lost five sons in the Civil War.  President Lincoln wrote “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Lt. Phil Clark (father) & Lt. Terry Clark (son)

Phil Clark was a 1968 Annapolis graduate and Navy fighter pilot whose A-7 fighter bomber was shot down over North Vietnam on December 24, 1972.  Phil was first declared missing in action and later reclassified to killed in action.  When Phil was shot down, he was married and had a very young son, Terry, and a daughter.

A few years after Phil’s death, Phil’s young wife died and his two young children were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, by their grandparents, Phil and Freda Clark.  The elder Phil is a retired USAF Colonel and former bomber pilot.  Phil and Freda were best friends for years with my parents.  My dad is a retired USAF Major.

Terry Clark graduated from Brophy College Preparatory high school in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1986, and the US Naval Academy in 1990, twenty-two years after his father’s graduation from the academy.  Terry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Navy fighter pilot.  I remember Terry and his sister visited my office one day for a legal matter shortly after Terry had received  his wings of gold.

On February 18, 1996, Lt. Terry Clark was killed in an F-14 training accident off the coast of San Diego.  I’ll never forget Colonel Phil Clark, Sr., telling me how difficult it was for he and Freda to go to Arlington National Cemetery twice, once to bury Phil and again to bury Terry.  As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and anguish Phil and Freda must have felt to have raised a son and a grandson to go to the Naval Academy, Navy pilot training and then be killed while flying fighters in defense of the United States.  The three generations of Clarks are true American heroes of the highest order.  They served our country quietly with dignity, honor and pride.

Captain Thomas A. Amos and Captain Mason I. Burnham

Tom Amos (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron) and Mason Burnham (421st Tactical Fighter Squadron) were killed in action during an F-4D combat mission over Laos on April 20, 1972.  They were escorting an AC-130 gunship as it struck targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The AC-130s (known as “Spectres”) carried a 20mm six barreled gatling gun and a 105mm Howitzer canon.  The Spectres were extremely effective at destroying military targets on the trail.

The job of the F-4 was to drop bombs on any troops that fired anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) at the gunship.  The F-4 rolled in to attack a gun on the ground.  The crew of the AC-130 saw a fireball on the ground and were not able to contact Tom or his backseater on the radio.  The term used by the intelligence personnel to describe the incident was “no chutes, no beepers.”

I will never forget hearing those words from time to time when I was attending intelligence briefings before flying combat missions over Vietnam.  The phrase meant there was no word on the fate of a downed aircrewman because when the airplane went down, nobody saw any parachutes or heard any beepers from the emergency radios that all aircrewmen carried.  When I flew combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972, I actually carried two radios on my person plus a third radio in the survival kit contained in the ejection seat.  USAF F-4s had an emergency radio in the survival kit that could be set to automatically transmit the emergency beeper sound on UHF frequency 343.0 (the emergency frequency monitored by USAF airplanes) when the ejection seat fired.

Tom was the only member of the 35th TFS (my squadron) from Kunsan, Air Base, Korea, killed in action when the 35th TFS deployed to DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972.

See Tom Amos on the Virtual Wall.

Captain Tom Ballard and Lt. Ron Goodwin

Tom Ballard and Ron Goodwin were killed flying an F-4 during a nuclear bomb delivery training mission over Korea on February 16, 1973.  They were on a typical F-4 training mission.  Tom and Ron were tasked to fly a low level route in their F-4D and deliver their first practice simulated nuclear bomb within 1,500 feet of the target plus or minus two minutes of a designated time over the target (TOT).  One of the missions of the F-4 was nuclear bombing so F-4 crews frequently practiced the skills necessary to put a nuclear bomb on target within the designated TOT.  In Korea, we usually flew a low level route 500 feet above the ground at 420 knots for about 30 minutes before reaching the target on the bombing range.

The F-4 had two ways to deliver a nuke bomb, the lay down method and the low angle drogue delivery (LADD) method.  The lay down method is the simplest method.  It involves merely flying straight and level over the target and releasing the nuke bomb at the proper time and place.  The bomb falls away from the airplane, the nose of the bomb falls off to reveal a spike and the bomb floats to the ground in a parachute.

The LADD delivery method involves flying towards the target and at a predetermined distance the pilot pulls back on the stick and begins a steep climb approximating 45 degrees.  At some point in the climb, the F-4′s Weapons Release Computer System releases the bomb.  The nuke bomb then continues in an upward trajectory for a while before falling back to earth.  The parachute on the bomb opens and the bomb then begins to float toward the ground.

The purpose of the LADD is to cause an air burst, i.e., a bomb that explodes above the ground, as opposed to a bomb that explodes on the ground.  The nuke bomb contained a radar altimeter that detonates the bomb at a designated altitude above the ground.  An air burst creates substantially more radioactivity than a ground burst of the same magnitude.

Tom and Ron flew a good low level mission to the Kuni bombing range on the west coast of Korea.  When they flew over the target at 1,000 feet, their bomb did not release.  The most common reason a bomb did not release was because the pilot failed to properly configure all of the switches necessary for the delivery.  We called this a “switchology error,” which meant an error caused by improper setting of weapons switches.  In the F-4 it was actually possible to select the switches in such a way that pressing the bomb release button caused the 20mm gatling gun on the centerline of the airplane to be released like a bomb.  The powers that be were not happy when a pilot accidentally bombed off a gun that cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Tom began a 360 degree turn to make another bombing run so that he could release his bomb within two minutes of the designated TOT.  The accident report speculated that while in the turn at low level (500 – 1,000 feet) the F-4 flew into the water.  Tom was probably checking the switches in the cockpit trying to figure out why the bomb did not release and was momentarily distracted, which allowed the airplane hit the water.  When you fly at high speeds (500 knots is 845 feet per second), there is not much room for error.

Duty, Honor, Country

Each of the above men exemplifies the concepts of Duty, Honor and Country, the foundations on which the U.S. military is built.  I believe that the finest speech ever given is General Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech that he gave without notes to the West Point corps of cadets on May 12, 1962.  In honor and remembrance of the six men named above and all of our fallen heroes of the U.S. military, I will close with excerpts from General MacArthur’s famous speech.

“Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. . . . I regard [the U.S. soldier] now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. . . . They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.”